Monday, November 22, 2010


This weekend I began prepping for my annual cookie bake.  I started this about 10 years ago as a girls get together, to bake some cookies before the craziness of the holidays set in.  As new friends,  husbands and children began to enter the picture the party grew and the baking of cookies was no longer the focus.  We still call it a cookie bake, but we no longer bake cookies - which is a little confusing for first time invitees.  Instead of a cookie bake we do a cookie exchange and enjoy meatball subs.  We added the meatballs as a way to entice boyfriends, soon to be husbands, to join us for the day without getting in our way.  Early on the guys would hangout by the fire pit or watching football and we would bake.  Now we all hang out around the fire pit, chase kids, catch-up and eat, a great beginning to the holidays.  So this weekend I began prepping, not by baking cookies, but by making sauce and baking off a couple hundred meatballs. 
I am a fan of baking meatballs, frying is just too messy and time consuming.  If making them and eating them the same day I finish cooking them in the sauce, but when making meatballs and freezing I just bake them thoroughly in the oven then reheat them in the sauce.  This year I am also returning to the large sized meatballs.  For a few years I went with the mini slider size, which were fun and easy for the kids, but they just don't have the same feel and the messiness is part of the fun.  Here is the base recipe I use, obviously when making huge amounts I alter the quantities of the ingredients.

2 Eggs
1/4 cup Milk
2 lbs Ground Beef
2 Cloves Garlic - finely diced
1 Tbs. Onion powder
1 Tbs. Worcestershire Sauce
1 cup Grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup Bread Crumbs
Salt and Pepper

Bake at 375
In large bowl mix eggs and milk together, beat lightly.  Add remaining ingredients, mix until combined.  Shape into desired size.  Bake until done, time will be determined by size.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cinnamon Pudding Cake

I attempted the Cinnamon pudding cake, the November cake for cake slice, but it was just not ment to be.  I began baking it late at night, without checking to make sure I had all the ingredients.  Of course I got about half way through the recipe when I realized I didn't have enough milk.  I had vanilla yogurt in the fridge so used that in combination with the milk.  That seemed fine so I went ahead and baked it off.  As I said I was baking late and it had been a long day, I set the timer, but then went downstairs - and fell asleep.  I over baked it by about 30 minutes, so it was just an ugly mess and it went straight in to the trash bin.   I am hoping to give it another try, but it won't be until after the Thanksgiving baking is done, so maybe next weekend. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Summer Salsa Chicken

Every year I try to do some canning.  I have never done the same thing twice, I have had more failures than success and I rarely use the things that do come out successfully.  Every Spring I have visions of a beautiful garden producing massive amounts of wonderful vegetables that I will can and savor throughout the winter.  Well, for many reasons I am still waiting for this vision to come true, but that is another story.  Anyway this summer we had a couple of weeks where we were swimming in peaches and tomatoes so I decided to make these ingredients my canning experiments for the season.  I came across a reciepe for Summer Salsa, it sounded yummy and I had all the ingredients on hand.  It was a little spicy, but I was really happy with the results.  I made dozen jars, I have 11 in the pantry - I used one jar to make a quick dip, combined with cream cheese it was super yummy, but everything is better with a little cream cheese - and now that Fall is quickly turning into Winter I thought I would try to use another jar or two.   I didn't do anything fancy, I just dumped the salsa over chicken breasts, but the meal tasted so yummy.  Next year I am definitely going to do more canning, and I am definitely making this salsa. 
Summer Salsa (from "Complete Home Presererving")
4 c.  Tomateoes, peeled, chopped cored
2 c.   Peaches, peeled, chopped pitted
2 c.   Pears, peeled, seeded chopped
1      Red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 c.  Red onion, finely chopped
3-4  Jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 c.  loosely packed finely chopped cilantro
1/2 c.  Honey
Gated zest and juice 1 lemon
1/4 c.  Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs.  Mint finely chopped

In large stainless steel saucepan combine tomatoes, peaches, pears, red pepper, onion, andjalapeno peppers.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly.  Add cilantro, honely, lemon zest and juice, vinegar and mint.  Reduce heat boil gently stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. 
Ladle hot salsa into prepared canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space.  Wipe rim, center lid on jar, screw band down.  Place jars in canner, process 8oz jars for 15 minutes, pint jars for 20 minutes. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Menu Planning Monday

Monday - chicken breast with summer salsa
Tuesday - meatball subs
Wednesday - Fish Tacos
Thursday - Steak Salad
Friday - ??

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Soccer Cupcakes

Liam's soccer season ended last weekend and this week the team celebrated with a pizza party.  There were only six boys on the team - in the U6 league they play 3 on 3, so cute - but with the noise and chaos the boys and their siblings created one would have thought there were 30 boys on the team.  Always looking for an opportunity to bake and then get the baked goods out of my house I volunteered to make the cupcakes.  I had wanted to make chocolate soccer balls, but ran out of time, so I was very happy when I found these guys at Michael's.  It was my first time using the grass tip, oh what fun!  I now want to make people just so I can pipe hair with this fun tip.  For the cupcakes I was craving chocolate, so I went to my old stand-by, the Martha Stewart "One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes."  This is a great recipe, very moist and super yummy.  I highly recommend them when you feel the craving for a classic chocolate cupcake.

Chocolate Cupcakes
2 1/2 c. AP Flour
1 1/4 c. Cocoa Powder
2 1/2 c. Sugar
2 1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1 1/4 tsp. Baking Powder
1 1/4 tsp. Salt
2 Large Eggs
1 Egg yolk
1 1/4 c. Milk
1/2 c. plus 2 Tbs. Vegetable Oil
1 1/4 tsp. Vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. Warm Water

Bake at 350
Sift together dry ingredients, place in bowl of electric mixer.  Add remaining ingredients, with paddle attachment beat on low until combined, about 3 minutes.  Fill cupcake tins about 2/3 full, bake for 20 minutes or until tester comes out clean. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Setting the Table

Even before I had kids I knew that I wanted us to sit down, as a family, for dinner.  I grew up having family dinners almost every night, that time was always special to me and I wanted to give my kids the same opportunity.  I knew it would be tough as the kids got older, schedules and everyday events would get in the way.  What I didn't fully prepare for was the work involved, with little kids,  in getting these dinners to actually happen.  I don't mean the dinner prep, most nights I like making dinner, cooking relaxes me so it usually doesn't feel like work.  What I am talking about is actually getting three little bodies to sit in their chairs and put food in their mouths.  It sounds so easy, dinner is cooked, put on the table, everybody sits down and enjoys.  Yet this rarely happen in our house and dinner time is becoming one of the most stressful times in our day, so I am on a mission to make dinner time fun.
It all starts when I ask for the table to be set.  Either no one is willing to help or Liam and Aggie both want to help resulting in a small scale cage match as they fight about which utensils to use and the proper placement of each item.  First we decided to alternate nights who gets to set the table.  If the person responsible decides not to do the job they loose a PP (our family money) and the other person can then help out and earn a PP.  The person setting the table gets to choose which utensils, plates and napkins we use, but must put the items in the proper place, and the rest of the family cannot change or complain about the items chosen.  To help get everything the proper spots we each made our own place mat. 
I made templates of a fork, knife, spoon,  plate and napkin, the kids traced them in the color of their choice then we glued each item in the proper place.  The kids decorated the plates and then drew a picture on the back.  When they  were done I covered the place mats in clear contact paper, some day I will have laminating machine.  We have been using them for a couple of weeks, the kids love using them.  They have helped Liam remember which side everything goes on and he likes being able to set the table without any help - he is my independent perfectionist.  They definitely help when Aggie is setting the table, she tends to be much more creative in her approach to, well pretty much everything and having the visual cue reminds her there is a proper way to set the table.  The table setter also gets to choose our centerpiece.  As long as it fits on the center place mat it can be used, pumpkins have been the favorite so far, but we have also had a LEGO centerpiece and a few other random toys.  It has been a good start, but it is relatively new and still exciting.  We will keep focusing on this for another week or so then I will begin making more of a focused effort to work on another aspect and hopefully it won't be long before our dinner time blues are a thing of the past. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Has anybody ever been to ICE?  I think last year was the first year it was in the area.  I really wanted to go, but we never got it on the schedule, so I am hoping we can make it this year, it sounds like an amazing event.  The combination of The Grinch and massive amounts of ice is just perfect.  Last year we went over to the Gaylord at the holidays, it was beautiful and the kids love walking around the hotel and National Harbor any time of year, so I can only imagine how excited they would be at seeing ICE.  We do have grandparents coming to town and having them stay at the Gaylord might be a good option, maybe we can even convince them to bring the kids for a sleepover one night.  Is it wrong to give a gift that would benifit Marshall and I?  Something to think about.  Anyway right now our holiday outing traditions includ zoo lights, the National tree and our favorite the Botanical gardens - if you haven't had the opportunity to visit this event and are in the area it is a wonderful outing for all ages.   I'll post about the Botanical gardens another time, but this picture is just a small example of all the amazing things made entirely out of natual elements.  Our Kids is giving away tickets and it would be wonderful to win, but even if I don't,  I think this year we will have to add one more outing to the list. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Menu Planning Monday

Not a lot of meals being eaten at home this week and the days we are home I have other projects to work on so I think it will be a salad and breakfast for dinner week.   What are your go to meals when you are unsure if you will need meals fixed at home or what time you will even get home.  Those are the meals I always struggle with.  Any suggestions?

For what it's worth, here is my menu plan for the week:
Monday - tonight we ended up with poached eggs and milk toast
Tuesday - Pizza party
Wednesday - pasta with veggies from the vegetable delivery, unsure what that will be
Thursday - ?
Friday - Marshall's night, I'm out with friends

And when all else fails, we will just have my little one's favorite, a plate full of clementines - she fixed this meal by herself.

Fire Truck Cake

This weekend I had the opportunity to make a birthday cake for a little boy turning 3.  He was having his party at a fire station, so of course he needed a fire truck cake.  The cake was a white butter cake with a chocolate mousse filling and iced with butter cream. The cake was made to serve 25, but the costumer ended up with a higher guest count than anticipated, so we added a dozen white cupcakes which I frosted with fire orange buttercream.  I got a lot of my ideas for the truck on-line, there are some great tutorials available.  The ladders were done in white chocolate and the fire hydrant and puddle were done in fondant.  For the lights I used Jolly ranchers and M&M's.  It was my second attempt at a truck cake and I think this one was much cleaner than my first attempt.  I still need to work at the detail on my cakes and figure out a way to work around my shaky hands, that make my piping look like I was working during an earthquake.  As I do more cakes it is becoming easier for me to set up a work schedule.  I am getting a better idea of how long each step will take and what can be done ahead of time.  Having a schedule definitely helps eliminate some of the last minute rush, there are still steps that have to be done last minute, but at least I am getting a better idea of what those steps will be. 

Fire Truck Cake Timeline
Mon: Sketch design, make templets, make cake board
Tue: Chocolate work -  ladders
Wed: Fondant work - fire hydrant, puddle, ladder sign 
Thur: Bake and freeze 2 9x13 cakes 
Fri: Chocolate mousse filling
Sat: Build and ice cake - do all piping work
Sun: Add detail - candy, ladders

The next things I need to get better at are determining how much cake I really need and making better ingredient lists so I only make one trip to the store instead of ten. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010


 Not an original thing to make with kids, but definitely a favorite.  We make it at least once a month, usually more.  The dough is quick, fun to play with and easy to make, the kids can work on it with little assistance.  The break while the dough rises can be helpful, although sometimes I have lost them completely during this two hour break and they have no interest in returning to finish the job, so sometimes it is good to just make the dough up ahead of time and let them focus on making the pizzas.   I usually put my dough in the oven to rise, there is enough warmth in there to speed the process and makes for a nice rise of the dough.  Just remember to take the dough out before you preheat the oven, not that I learned that from previous experience. 
We usually make individual pizzas and cook them on the pizza stone, but I also like to mix it up and make one or two large pizza - I often do this on those days when we need some help with that whole cooperation, sharing, compromise thing that kids need to learn.  And I am sure I have said this before, but pizza can be a great way to use up leftovers.  This week Aggie helped make the dough, she loves any job that involves getting her hands messy, and then the kids each made their own pizza while Marshall and I shared a pan pizza.  The kids did basic pizza, the girls no sauce just cheese and pepperoni.  Liam is willing to be a little more adventurous with his toppings this time he went with ground beef, pepperoni and pineapple.  Like the girls Marshall and I don't really like sauce and prefer white pizza, so we went with ground beef, spinach, diced tomatoes, garlic and cheese and since Marshall made the pizza it was seasoned heavily, but in a very good way.  I don't have a recipe for the pizza, but here is the dough I like to use, it is a great multi purpose dough.

Pizza Dough
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Tbs. Honey
3 tsp Dry Yeast (or 1 packet)
2 1/2 cups Flour

Combine water, milk, olive oil and honey, heat until lukewarm.  Sprinkle yeast over wet ingredients, stir and let rest until yeast dissolves.  Stir in flour, once combined knead until smooth.  Place in oiled bowl, cover and let rise until double in size.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chicken Satay Salad

The kids have been taken down by a nasty cold so I am keeping them out of the kitchen, but I will post a kids cook later in the week.  I had been planning on making chicken satay lettuce wraps for dinner, but due to sick grumpy kids and a change in our vegetable delivery I changed things up a little.  Satay is is a great meal to make with kids, there are a lot of things they can do and it is a fun meal to eat.  When I cook with the kids I typically have them do the cutting, but with satay I do the cutting and they get to do more of the actual cooking, so it is a meal they take a lot of pride in.  I know some people don't like the idea of kids handling raw chicken, but I think it is important to have kids do all types of jobs and learn the responsibilities, like washing well after handling, that go along with the various job.  I cut the chicken into strips, but let them flavor and skewer.  Not all kids love touching chicken, but my kids love slimy gooey things, and for them chicken is one of the best slimy things around so they will always jump at the chance to "play" with it.  Skewering is a great activity for kids, weather it is putting on a bunch of different items, or putting one long piece of chicken on a stick, it helps develop fine motor skills and dexterity.  Plus it only takes a few times of watching food fall off the stick before kids realize the importance of getting the stick through the center of the item.  I often put my oldest son, 5, in charge of making the peanut sauce.  I use a very simple kid friendly receipe, so kids are familiar with all the ingredients and can often do all the mise en place and measuring alone.  The sauce is not cooked making  it a great solo activity for young cooks. 
As I said my meal for last night changed slightly.  I had originally planned on doing wraps, with chicken skewers, but we got a bag of lettuce instead of a head of lettuce, so i went with a salad with chopped chicken,  instead of wraps, which was just as tasty.

Chicken Satay Salad
1 lb Boneless Chicken breast cut into strips
2 Tbs. of Ginger, finely chopped
1 Tbs. Garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup Apple Juice
1/4 cup Peanut Butter (creamy or chunky)
3 Tbs. Soy Sauce
Dash Hot Sauce
1 Cup Shredded Carrots
1 Cucumber, peeled and julienned
1 Bag/Head of Lettuce

Heat pan with oil, add chicken, ginger and garlic.  Cook until chicken is cooked through, remove from pan, cool slightly and chop roughly.
For sauce heat apple juice slightly.  Add peanut butter and soy sauce.  Toss half of the sauce with the chopped chicken, use remaining sauce as dressing for salad. 
Combine carrots, cucumber and lettuce top with chicken and additional dressing if desired.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pumpkin Streusel Muffins

My little one woke up around 4:30 this morning and decided it was time to start the day, plus my morning coffee was feeling a little sad a lonely.  The cure - Pumpkin Streusel Muffins.  I would like to describe the muffin,  but I just watched the Saturday Night Live skit with Betty White and I just can't write about muffins right now, so here is a picture and the recipe.

Pumpkin Muffins with Struesel Topping
Makes about 18

1 Stick Butter
¾ Cup Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Molasses
1 Cup Canned Pumpkin
1 Egg
1 ¾ Cups Flour
½ tsp Salt
1 tsp Baking Soda
1½ tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Nutmeg
¾ Cup Dates, Prunes 
½ Cup Chopped Pecans

Streusel Topping:
4 Tbs. Butter softened
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Flour
1 Tbs. Cinnamon
1 tsp. Nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper baking cups.
Cream the butter, brown sugar, and molasses until creamy. Add the pumpkin and the egg and mix well.
Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add the dry ingredients and the dates, prunes or raisins and nuts to the mixture. Beat just until the batter is smooth. Spoon into muffin pans.
For topping combine dry ingredients, then work in butter.  Sprinkle over tops of muffins
Bake for 15 minutes

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lo Mein Soup

The planned meal for tonight was Lo Mein, but with two sick kids it morphed into a soup and a pretty tasty one at that.  I have also rediscovered my love of Ramen Noodles.  Like many college students,  I lived on them.  Easy to fix when living in the dorm and a great cheap food when first living on your own.  During those years I didn't do anything except fix them as plain noodles or fix them as soup, and of course I used that salty flavoring packet that tasted so good after a long night out.  After a few years of these as the base of my diet I gave them up completely and then a couple of months ago I picked them up as a quick lunch for my kids and ever since I have been hooked once again.  My kids love having them for lunch, we alternate between eating them  as soup and just as noodles, and of course we use the flavor packet.   But there are so many other uses, they are great uncooked in salads or as a replacement for pasta in soup.  And if you ask my youngest they are just fun to play with!  What is your favorite use?

Lo Mein soup
1 lbMushrooms (I had button, but any kind would do)
1 Bunch Spinach
1 Tbs. Garlic
1/2 inch Ginger finely chopped
2 Carrots grated
3 packets Ramen Noodles cooked
2 cups Broth (I used chicken, would have preferred beef, but didn't have any)
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
2 Tbs. Oyster Sauce

Saute garlic until soft and fragant.  Add ginger.  Add mushrooms cook until soft.  Add spinach once wilted add broth, soy sauce and oyster sauce stir together add noodles and carrots.

Menu Planning Monday

Wow, could it be two weeks in a row where this actually gets done on Monday!  No recipe links this week, but hopefully I will post some receipes this week, even though they are all pretty straight forward. 

Monday -  Lo Mein
Tuesday - squash meatloaf - from the new Everyday Food
Wednesday - Chicken Satay
Thursday - Steak fajitas
Friday - Make your own pizza